Harvest first: the pheasants and partridge have been staying put so we can find them on shoot days. They have flown well, but by the end of January they're canny. If they have avoided being em...harvested, it's because they've found a back door. This month I've watched as many pheasants sneak out of a drive as fly over the gun line, and I've cheered those resourceful little birds. Pretty soon we'll be picking up those hens' eggs and smiling at the cock birds fighting in the middle of the road, oblivious to my oncoming truck.
The weather is more bearable when it's cold, because the mud freezes and the house stays marginally cleaner. There are no rubber trousers hanging from doors waiting to ambush you when you get up at the crack of stupid o'clock to make a cup of tea. However, we confine ourselves to two rooms: the tiny galley kitchen and just slightly-less-tiny front room. The floors are wipeable and the wood stove keeps both rooms warm enough that I only need to wear two layers and long socks indoors. And the stove dries our clothes and keeps the labs up to temperature -
By this time of year we're so tired that we've slipped into a near feral state. The house smells of labrador, and the bathtub has a permanent layer of scum from the spaniels' after-work hosedowns. We just throw dry towels on the couch and let the dogs have the run of the place. Pip has taken my work shirt and a pillow and made a "nest" in her favorite chair -
Eudora's still doing great by the way.
The kitchen table is buried under reference books, clean dog towels, cartridges, ear defenders, and clothes that the dogs haven't stolen yet -
We don't need it to eat dinner on. We haven't been shopping for a while and this is pretty much all that's in the fridge -
Condiments, a dessicated lime from Christmas, some questionable eggs I found in the hedge, and animal medication. We've been eating at our local pub, run by Rich and Mary who are two of the nicest people you could ever meet. It's kind of like eating local as we supply them with meat, and even holly to garnish their customers' puddings. And it's far more hygienic than our house. They supply the good cooking and the great conversation. It's a great way to unwind after a shoot day, with the bonus of no dishes to wash up, and they don't mind if we show up in our tweeds, blood spatters, trailing feathers, and all.
Before the shooting season ends, we wanted to make sure that our own freezers were well-stocked. Eventually we would have to go back to cooking our own food. The past three nights, after shoot days, Underkeeper Pete and I have been walking up the hedgerows and copses, looking for game birds.
The first night I shot my first ever teal and Pete shot a woodcock. The second night we missed everything. The third evening we started out earlier (and I remembered my camera) and we shot straight. Well, Pete did anyway. We had 8 pheasants, only one of which was mine -
They're hanging now, and will be ready to turn into a game pie (with my one pheasant) by the end of shoot season. I did manage a bit of home curing too, and used the rest of the bacon cure to corn a venison loin -
It turned out better than I expected considering I didn't have a recipe and I wasn't sure if the chemistry would work. It's a bit salty on the ends. I've fried it with eggs for breakfast and used small pieces as rewards for the dogs on shoot days.
Lily the chocolate lab has earned her share of the venison. I brought her along on the past two days' shoots, to accompany the other dogs and see what she made of the noises and smells. Lily has excelled herself. She hunts and retrieves already, with nothing more than instinct to drive her. I think she's happier being a working dog than a pet. I think everything is happier when it has a purpose, people and dogs topping that list.
And I needed her. Jazz is tired, Podge is struggling to hold her weight, Spud has come into season, Pip can only work twice a week max due to her weak hips, and Dulcie is still recovering from her operation. If only I could teach sheep to retrieve.